Mehdi Khalaji writes: Unlike in 1989, the Revolutionary Guards and other powerful Iranian institutions will probably play an outsize role in determining and influencing the next Supreme Leader, especially now that another major revolutionary figure has passed away.
The unexpected death of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani could be the first scene in Iran’s nascent leadership transition theater, whose subsequent acts are probably yet to be written. The former president played a unique role in consolidating the power of both the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Later, he paved the way for the rise of Mohammad Khatami as a “reformist” president after his own two terms in that office. And in 2013, his well-known protege Hassan Rouhani won the presidency due in large part to Rafsanjani’s vital support. It is therefore important to consider how Iran’s upcoming transitions — the June 2017 presidential election and the eventual task of determining the elderly Khamenei’s successor — will play out in the absence of a man whose fingerprints can be found on most every such moment in the regime’s four-decade history, and who embraced his role as a major irritant to Khamenei in his later years.
In practical terms, Rafsanjani’s positions as head of the Expediency Council and a key member in the Assembly of Experts will presumably be filled by a figure who is more loyal to Khamenei and the regime’s hardcore military camp — no surprise given his advocacy for replacing the position of Supreme Leader with a leadership council. Yet such an appointment would not necessarily produce a more united hardliner front. If regime “moderates” become even more marginalized following the death of one of their main boosters, new divisions will likely emerge in the radical camp as various figures jockey for position in order to take power post-Khamenei. [Continue reading…]